Eva Bradley: Technology to love and hate


How  much do we really want to know about the lives of our friends? Facebook has already allowed us entry into the once-private thoughts of those we know (and even those we don't really, or don't want to), but as the insidious power of technology expands, it is now possible to know where people are at every single moment of the day.

For quite some time I was mildly interested in an iPhone app called foursquare which my boyfriend was using with a small stable of mates.

It allowed them all to "check in" using their phone's satellite tracking system to every imaginable place including cafes, supermarkets, towns, train stations and even their own homes (once registered).

Eventually I joined too and then encouraged a few of my friends to do the same.

Apparently wildly popular in other parts of the world and a basis for earning discounts at various businesses and retailers, in New Zealand the app is relatively new and so it is quite possible to smoke the competition and suddenly find oneself awarded the title of "mayor" of the favourite local bar, the neighbourhood McDonald's or even (as I myself have been known to proudly boast about) ...

the city one lives in.

But good friends can make great enemies and lately the competition to be top dog and get the most points has seen us all walking around our real world with our fingers tapping away at our cellphones updating the data for our virtual one.

I live in fear that the friend who works for me may soon oust me as the mayor of my own business. Would she then demand a par rise?

And while some rate their performance on how "cool" their check-ins are at any one day (extra points for airports, beaches mid-week and bars after midnight) ultimately it comes down to who has been the most places regardless of where they are.

Given you can create your own "locations" (home being the obvious one), we were all surprised to discover a friend stuck at home with a new baby and presumably unable to check in anywhere much at all was leading the charge ... until closer examination revealed the "Milk Bar' was not some new hot spot we'd all been missing but the breast feeding chair, and the "Servant's Quarters" was the laundry, not a new restaurant.

Needless to say my workplace has now been divided into the office, the studio, the lobby and the storage room - never mind that you can pretty much stand in all four of them at once.

Location has become a vocation and going under the radar has become a thing of the past.

Another app which lets people track cellphone locations saw a friend's husband in hot water after the little wee dot that showed his phone travelling home with him from an out-of-town trip mysteriously stop in the middle of an unfamiliar town.

A quick search on Google Earth revealed the location to be a pub and since it wasn't yet beer-o'clock and he was due back in time to put the kids to bed, the cellphone that betrayed him was then used to inform him to put his beer down and get the hell home.

Who could have thought the price of progress could ever have been so high?

Electronic monitoring is no longer the stuff of Orwellian novels and courtrooms.

The future has arrived and it is cool and irritating in equal measure.

Eva Bradley is an award-winning columnist.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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